It was always a formality, even in the minutes following the game-winning Chris Paul runner that barely made it over his fingertips. Tim Duncan was always going to go come back to play a 19th NBA season in 2015-16. Now it’s official.
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(OK, not “official.” That’s not how the NBA works in the first week of July. More on that in a minute.)
Duncan confirmed as much with San Antonio Express-News Spurs beat writer extraordinaire Mike Monroe on Thursday:
Recruiting trip for Aldridge produced for #Spurs: Per Tim Duncan ... 'Finally had a chance to talk with Pop; I'll be on court next year.'
— Mike Monroe (@Monroe_SA) July 2, 2015
The Spurs are as active as they’ve ever been in any offseason in Duncan’s 18-year history with the team. There have always been role player overhauls (1999, 2001, 2013) and attempts at landing stars (2003), but this Spurs offseason turned into a whirlwind just within the first 24 hours of the free agent turn.
On Wednesday, Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard agreed to eventually agree to terms with the team. Later, in the actual waking hours, the Spurs surprised everyone by keeping two-way shooting guard Danny Green in the fold with a four-year, $45 million contract agreement. The team also passed off center Tiago Splitter (who when healthy and now suffering from calf troubles can still be a winning tipping point in the modern game) on the Atlanta Hawks in an attempt to clear salary cap space.
That space, possibly paired with another trade or two along with the once-unexpected but now relied-upon $2 million salary cap projection increase, is currently being waived in front of power forward LaMarcus Aldridge. Aldridge is the last free agent star available (LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are rather unique cases and don’t really count) that hasn’t agreed to contract terms with a team, and the Spurs appear to be the leader in the clubhouse.
A clubhouse that will, for the 19th time since he was drafted No. 1 overall in 1997, include Tim Duncan.
Duncan has enjoyed two fantastic bounce-back years after missing the 2012 NBA All-Star Game. His Spurs nearly won it all in 2013, they grabbed the ring handily in 2014, and despite the team’s first round bow-out at the hands of the Los Angeles Clippers the squad was rightfully considered as strong a championship contender as any entering the postseason.
That first round pairing was muddled by the NBA’s anachronistic seeding system, which can value a lesser division-winner over more successful teams. In 2014-15, Aldridge’s Trail Blazers were one of those teams last season – winning four fewer games than San Antonio but bumping up to the fourth seed while pushing San Antonio down to the sixth because of PDX’s Northwest Division “title.” The ignominy of that probably didn’t add to Aldridge’s decision to leave Portland, but it was a little embarrassing and likely the last instance of its kind.
Duncan will be the last of his kind. Though he could have been a lottery pick after sophomore and junior seasons (unlike Kenyon Martin, the last senior drafted first overall), Duncan entered the league as a fourth-year senior star – a novelty even in 1997. He took a subservient offensive role in his rookie year, yet still won the Rookie of the Year, and a championship in his second. Though he did flirt with signing with Orlando in 2000 (fearful of what we then thought to be an aging San Antonio team), he’s remained a Spur for life.
We don’t have an official agreement yet, and NBA players can’t even sign legal contracts until July 9. Duncan may even delay any agreement and payment terms even further than that particular date as San Antonio sorts out the machinations that it hopes to land Aldridge with – grabbing LMA is no sure thing just yet.
We get to see Tim Duncan play basketball next year, though. Just because we knew it was coming, that doesn’t take away from how fun that is to think about.
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